MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer HELENA
The Public Service Commission decided to ask for a legal opinion looking into money member Brad Molnar took from NorthWestern Energy prompting him to accuse the Democratic majority of embarking on a "political hatchet job." The normally staid Commission turned ugly Tuesday at one point Molnar told Democrat Ken Toole to "shut up." The other Republican on the panel, Doug Mood, walked out on the hearing. The issue revolves around $1,000 that Molnar solicited from NorthWestern Energy, regulated by the Commission, as part of his effort to organize a "brownout" in the Billings area last winter. He says he also accepted donations from Wal- Mart and PPL Montana. Molnar who is seeking re-election and the donations are also the focus of a complaint his opponent, Ron Tussing, filed last month with the office of Political Practices. Tussing argues that Molnar later used brochures paid for with that money as campaign materials. The three Democrats on the PSC voted Tuesday to seek the attorney general's opinion of whether Molnar's actions were legal. Attorney General Mike McGrath, a Democrat, is required in such cases to focus on questions of law and write an opinion not investigate new facts, or prosecute cases. "The issue is what the law requires and prohibits and what current and future commissioners must do," PSC Chairman Greg Jergeson said. He said the request was not politically driven. Molnar, and fellow Republican Mood, were not convinced. Before Mood walked out on the proceedings, he said things at the PSC had become increasingly partisan. He said it was not that way a few years ago when they all worked together to decide regulation issues. "We look stupid. We look petty and stupid," he said of the PSC. Jergeson said he believes that Molnar used a so-called constituency account to deposit and spend the money. Those accounts, once freewheeling slush funds free of regulation, were reined in by the Legislature in 2007. But Molnar said he did not use a constituency account, and has never had such an account. He said he used his personal account to pay for $3,000 worth of brochures and other items, and accepted about $2,500 in reimbursement from Donors. "I took that money and thanked those guys for the money, and it was stated on the brochure where it came from," Molnar said. He said the energy conservation message was a public service allowed by law. The brownout encouraged Billings residents and businesses to reduce electricity use for one hour on Dec. 6. "This whole thing is just ridiculous. It was purely partisan," Molnar said. "This is about trying to get a negative headline, 'Molnar accused.' Period."